Ace Frehley has his hands on his guitar and his head in the stars

It took five years for Space Ace, as he’s sometimes called, to come back and take over our records shops (yes, those still exist) and mp3 players. Apparently the guitarist from outer space hasn’t yet learned to compose at the speed of light, but at least this time it didn’t take him twenty years – the time we had to wait for him to release Anomaly, his previous solo album. In those twenty years, all he put out was a single album with Kiss, Psycho Circus, the highlight of a short-lived reformation. The machine is running more smoothly now, and the man seems to be engaged in a race with his former Kiss colleagues, whose albums he never misses an opportunity to criticize. In 2009, Frehley released his first record since his departure from the band at the same time as Sonic Boom, and now, two years after Monsters, he’s back with Space Invaders, banking on a vintage sound and imagery that will remind his fans of his younger years.

In the following interview, Ace Frehley tells us all about this new record, which mostly revolves around his favourite subject – space –, mentions a few of his personality traits, and gives us a few details regarding his relationship with his former Kiss mates, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, with whom he considers to be “still friends”.

« My biggest joy in life is making people happy »

Radio Metal: Although not as long as the twenty years wait before Anomaly came out, your fans still had to wait five long years for a new album. What took you so long?

Ace Frehley (guitar/vocals): Oh well, I was writing and I also moved cross country from New York to California. Originally I was gonna go with one label in the US and I decided not to go with them, so I had to start all over negotiations with another label and that took several months to put together. Eventually I signed the deal last year during the summer. And then it took ten months to record the record so… Here you go! [Laughs]

The Space Invader album artwork was done by Ken Kelly who did the Destroyer and Love Gun albums, and the music really seems to hark back to that mid and late seventies style. Does this particular time period hold a special meaning to you?

Well yeah, that’s when I started out, you know! With Kiss, in the seventies, that’s when we had our big success and that style of music is the way I’ve always pretty much written. What I did on this album is that I got Warren Huart to mix the record. He specializes in vintage sounding mixes, so that really took it to the next level sound wise. But in my mind I always try to achieve a vintage type of guitar sound.

Do you happen to be nostalgic of thoses times?

Of course, yeah! Those were good times! In 1978, Kiss was pretty much one of the biggest rock bands in the world and it was like a rollercoaster ride. I left the group in 1982 to pursue a solo career and then I re-joined in 1995 to do the reunion tour, the Psycho Circus tour and the farewell tour and then left again and this is my second album out since my last departure from Kiss.

Was Space Invader actually conceived the same way that you did back then, with your first solo record for example, or are there differences in the process and the inspiration?

The process, the way I recorded it, hasn’t really changed much from 1978. When I did that first 1978 album, I pretty much did it with just me and the drummer Anton Fig. We cut basic tracks and then I overdubbed a scratch bass guitar and that would be the foundations of the song. Working with Eddie Kramer, it was really easy because I had worked with Eddie on several projects prior to that record. And I pretty much use the same process today, I go on with a drummer, record base guitar and drums and then put on a bass guitar and then we start overdubbing. It works for me. That process works for me.

Were you actually inspired by your first solo album that each all your fans seem to really like?

Well during the recording process I listened to my solo album several times, I tried to incorporate some of the sounds into this new record. And yeah I think I achieved that, it has a good vintage sound. But I also think I broke some new grounds through songs like “Change” and “Immortal Pleasures”. I co-wrote those with my fiancée Rachel Gordon. That along with the more vintage sounding stuff like “What Every Girl Wants” and “Gimme a Feelin’”. Of course I incorporated an instrumental into the album, because all my solo albums end with an instrumental so I didn’t want to disappoint my fans in that area! [Laughs] It’s just something I’ve carried on over the years. “Fractured Mirror” was my first instrumental in 1978 and subsequently on every album since then, I’ve included an instrumental and the fans like it. I have fans that have edited them all together into one long song! [Laughs] It’s something I might consider doing and maybe putting an animation to it. That would be an interesting project.

Speaking of this, apparently the album was instrumental up until the last two weeks of mixing. Do you actually like being under pressure to write lyrics at the very last minute?

I don’t like to, but I was producing the album, writing, singing and playing all the instruments –all the guitar work – it was a lot for me! So sometimes I would get a little jammed up and… I knew I had some rough ideas for lyrics, but they just all came together in the last two weeks of mixing. While Warren Huart was mixing one song, I was writing the lyrics for “Space Invaders” and “Past The Milky Way” in my hotel room and it happened rather rapidly. Working with him was a big plus because we are both on the same page.

Have you thought about doing a full instrumental album?

I may have thought about it but I don’t know! I could do so much more… I think my fans would want more than that. I think they’re happy with one instrumental per record.

You actually seem to refer to your fans a lot, is it important for you to make an album that will please your fans? Is it what you think about when recording?

I think about it all the time! I don’t believe in being too self-indulgent. My biggest joy in life is making people happy so when I’m making a record I think about how my fans are gonna react to it. I want my fans to like it, I want them to buy it and I want them to come and see me perform live so that’s hand in hand.

« I’ve been sober for eight years now and I did make a lot of mistakes in the past but I don’t regret them because I believe in my heart that I needed to make those mistakes to get to where I am today. »

What’s the story behind that cover of “The Joker”? Did you want to try to make it your new “New York Groove”?

It wasn’t my idea to perform “The Joker”; it actually came from the record company. I was a little hesitant, but after I started playing with it, it actually became fun. I kind of gave the chorus a “New York Groove” kind of swing. I made the song a lot heavier than Steve Miller’s version. I also threw in a guitar solo. I’m happy with the way it came out, I changed a couple of lyrics and so far the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

Are you often influenced by ideas from other people around you?

Oh sure, all the time! I’m definitely not on an island! [Laughs] I like to take suggestions from everybody and anybody. Anything that can make the record better, I’m willing to listen to people. During the recording process, I got a lot of feedback from my engineers and the people that performed on the record, my fiancée Rachel, who co-wrote two songs, and my assistant John Ostrosky, we co-wrote “Gimme A Feelin’”. I like to take a lot of suggestions; they’re usually very positive and help me along through the recording process.

Your nickname is the Spaceman, your new album is called Space Invaders and you have always played with that space theme, but do you actually have a special relationship with science fiction or extra-terrestrial stuff?

I’ve always been fascinated with science fiction. I’m also fascinated with astronomy and technology. I have a giant telescope in my home. [Laughs] Yeah, I like to gaze at the stars, I’m fascinated with technology and the fact that we have rovers driving around on Mars now and talking about going back to the moon… The whole process is very fascinating. Plus I’ve always been fascinated with science fiction films. I’d love to score a film! I’ve been talking to a couple of different producers about doing the score for a film so that’s something I haven’t done yet but that’s a benchmark I’m looking towards in the future.

If you weren’t a musician, do you think you’d have worked for the NASA?

Eh, well I don’t have the credentials, you know? Most people who work at the NASA have extensive school in their background in aerodynamics and space. I only graduated from high school so… [Laughs] I don’t think they would have welcomed me with open arms! [Laughs]

You have now had a 40 years career since the first Kiss album. How would you describe your evolution as an artist?

Well, it’s not for me to say! I just keep trying to do the best work I possibly can. I’ll leave that up to the reviewers and the fans to critique. I kind of speak through my music, but I’m very happy with the way this album has turned out, it’s getting a lot of critical acclaim. I just keep moving forward. I don’t really think too much about the things I do, I just kind of do what comes naturally to me and hopefully my fans are going to like it. And so far they have.

Are there things you have regretted, mistakes you surely wouldn’t make anymore?

Well yeah! I’ve been sober for eight years now and I did make a lot of mistakes in the past but I don’t regret them because I believe in my heart that I needed to make those mistakes to get to where I am today.

I’ve read that you have Attention Deficit Disorder. Is this correct?

Yeah, I do. Sadly from all the drugs I’ve used. [Laughs]

Has this sometimes impacted your work as an artist? Have you ever encountered problems because of that in your life as an artist?

I’ve don’t have troubles performing live, but during the recording process, sometimes I have to take a break because I just can’t focus on what I’m doing. Sometimes I have to leave the studio early and come back the next day. But the fact that I’m the producer and I’m in control of the situation, it really isn’t that big of a problem. Live it isn’t a problem, but when I’m working in the studio, sometimes I lose my focus. When I am recording I like the fewest amount of people around. Usually I just record with me, a drummer and an engineer. I don’t like a lot of distractions because they can make me lose focus so I always use a minimum amount of people in the studio.

Do you miss the larger than life shows you did with Kiss or do you actually prefer the more stripped down and closer to the audience shows you do now?

I miss playing in big stadiums and stuff but I also enjoy being in control of my own destiny. You know Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are very much control freaks and we often disagreed on how to go about some things. These days I don’t have that problem because I’m in control of my destiny and I like it that way.

Could it be because Paul and Gene are control freaks, as you said, that the last years you spent with Kiss didn’t work?

They’ve always been control freaks! [Laughs] They’ve been control freaks from the very beginning. Sometimes they rubbed me the wrong way and I got into trouble with them but I don’t have to deal with that today, so life’s good.

Would you say that you’re happier now?

Oh, absolutely! I’m actually really happy. I have a wonderful woman, I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long time, I just got a clean bill of health from my doctor and sky is the limit for me. I pick and choose the projects I want to do and it’s working for me at this junction.

(About Kiss) « I think if they spent more time in the studio they’d probably make better records »

You’ve been inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with Kiss, I guess this must have been a great moment for you, but sadly the original band didn’t perform together although the organization pushed for it. Do you regret this? Do you understand Gene’s decision to kind of protect and stand behind the current Kiss line-up?

Well I understand the psychology behind it. The last time Paul and Gene reunited with me and Peter Criss, they had to scrap their last album and do a reunion tour. So I think there was a part of them that was afraid of history repeating itself. They had a big tour planned with the current lineup and they didn’t want anything to take away from that. I think that’s the reason they decided not to perform with me and Peter even though the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame wanted us to perform and fans wanted us to perform. I think it’s a decision Paul and Gene will live to regret. After forty years, they couldn’t give the fans fifteen minutes of what they wanted!

So you are saying that the current Kiss lineup is not solid enough to withstand two or three songs with the classic lineup?

No, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is the two guys in the current lineup weren’t being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Me, Peter, Paul and Gene, we were the ones to be asked to perform. So it is unfortunate Paul and Gene couldn’t do the right thing. It’s something the fans wanted, it’s something the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame wanted us to do, but Paul and Gene decided not to, and it was an unfortunate decision.

What has your relationship with Paul and Gene been lately? I’ve read Gene and you exchanging some little cutting remarks in the press…

We’re still friends; we’re still on speaking terms, the press kind of blows the whole thing out of proportions. In my opinion we are all still friends; we’re brothers in rock n’ roll. We created something great in the seventies that have withstood the test of time! I just think that today they’ve been driven by money. So they make decisions based on money and they don’t want to share it with other people so it is what it is. [Laughs] On one aspect I believe they have forgotten what’s important because it seems like that. Lately, in the last couple of years, they’ve tried to split themselves by getting involved with restaurants and football teams in America, and I think if they spent more time in the studio they’d probably make better records.

Were you actually bothered with Kiss passing over your stage character and suit to another musician?

Yeah, well you know it’s their decision, and I’m not happy about it. I mean I still get royalties but it would have probably been a better decision for them to come up with a different makeup for the new guys, like they did with Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent.

You have plans for a full cover album. How did you get this idea and what can we expect from it?

It’s going to be an album of covers and remixes. So it’s going to be some cover songs and the rest are going to be songs that I am re-recording, songs that I have already recorded. But the list keeps getting larger and larger, and I’m going to have to edit it down to twelve songs so we’ll see what happens. I’m taking my time with this one too because I want it to be great.

Do you already have an idea of what songs will be on it?

I’m not giving that away at this point. I’d like to keep the focus on Space Invaders.

You are going to tour, so what can we expect from your next tour?

Well I’ve just been announcing the lineup. We’re kicking off the tour in the US in November. The bass player from The Cult is playing bass; he actually plays bass on two songs on the album. My touring drummer right now is working with Mr Big, so I retained the services of my old drummer Scot Coogan who’s been with me since 2007. And then I also caught up with Richie Scarlet who’s worked with me in the past with Frehley’s Comet and the Ace Frehley band so I’m real happy with the lineup and I think it’s gonna be a great lineup.

Have you thought about recording a live album?


Interview conducted by phone 18th, september 2014 by Spaceman.
Retranscription and traduction: Natacha.
Introduction: Spaceman.

Ace Frehley official website: www.acefrehley.com.

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